Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary


beat poets

From North Beach

North Beach (1)

Like Quicksand

We walk the streets of North Beach
follow the footsteps of Ferlinghetti
and the ghosts of Ginsberg and Kerouac.
In Washington Square Park,
under St. Peter and Paul’s twin spires,
an old hippie sits on a bench,
finger picks a vintage Epiphone guitar.

Next to him, another man
stares off into space,
cradles his mandolin, listens.
Joe Dimaggio marries Marilyn Monroe
in that church, she lifts her veil,
steals a kiss on the granite steps;
here in Joe’s home town.

Italian restaurants and coal fired pizza,
storied nightclubs and tattoo parlors,
psychic readers, butchers, bakers
and kite makers.
The City Lights Bookstore
stands like a shrine, a beacon.
Ground zero for a revolution.

A man lies fast asleep on the ground, under
a sparkling, golden sky and a pile of clothes
in the middle of the afternoon.
Some changes happen before we notice,
others sneak by under our noses,
but Time, a slow train runnin’
creeps up like quicksand.

Remembering “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac

I was in one of those warehouse sized discount stores the other day when I came across a table stacked with books. One of my old favorites jumped right out at me and I picked it up. I was surprised to see a brand new printing of the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road. That book had a major influence on me as a teenager and young man. I remember finding that and copies of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in a box of my Mom’s books that was stashed in our basement. These books had all been controversial for different reasons and I remember feeling like I had come across a secret cache of some kind of forbidden fruit.

Kerouac had the idea for On The Road in the late 40’s and finished his first draft on one continuous scroll in 1951, although it wasn’t published until 1957. As I held this new edition in my hand I couldn’t stifle my ironic amusement at seeing the latest edition of On The Road being marketed in a discount store with the phrase “NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE!” plastered all over the cover, along with glossy photos of the 20-something actors smiling with perfect teeth and stylishly coiffed hair who are presumably playing the roles of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady who were, in fact, unwashed, speed addled, pot smoking, besotted, penniless, rag tag vagabonds and not Barbie and Ken Dolls.

I admit to feeling some consternation that one of my own most revered icons from my wayward youth was NOW! A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE! Sacrilege, I say! Not really, but it’s a little like the way I felt when I figured out there was no Santa Claus, or that my Davy Crockett toys had been sold in a garage sale. The death of the 60’s was hard enough to take back then, but do you have to keep rubbing it in in 2012 by making On The Road into Beverly Hills 90210?

So, they finally came out with a film version of On The Road. Well, it took ’em long enough. Kerouac wrote the thing 61 years ago. By the way, what kind of advertising genius still calls films “motion pictures”? The Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone, my friend. A friend of mine told me today that Allen Ginsberg bobbleheads are part of the marketing campaign. Seriously? Must you? That’s just like pouring salt in the wound. If you’re going to do that, then it seems like a Walt Whitman teddy bear would be huge. Or how about a Charles Bukowski doll that smokes, drinks and curses?

I must admit, I am kind of curious about this “major motion picture.” However, I know I’ll be watching this one at home on Movies on Demand, amongst the trappings of my bourgeois lifestyle as I lay draped in velvet and sipping an insouciant cabernet that doesn’t bite back.

Book Report and Other Rantings and Ravings

Book Maker's Tools

This is my first book report for 2012. Remember book reports? Almost nothing could induce panic and dread like a book report, if you hadn’t actually read the book and were trying to fake it. My teachers could be like something out of the Spanish Inquisition if I tried to put that kind of crap past them. However, book reports were really cool if you actually had read the book, and especially if you enjoyed the book. They were an occasion to celebrate and share.

I seem to be ordering a lot of books online lately. The books I’ve been buying are Poetry and Flash Fiction by authors whose work I find exciting, engaging, tough, gritty, edgy and most importantly, truly authentic. I like these guys with the same kind of  passion I had for the Beat Poets when I was a snot nosed twenty-something. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a snot-nosed twenty-something. We’ve all been there, or maybe you ARE there, in which case please don’t take offense. I’m a geezer and I have cranky opinions.

Anyway, I’ve been ordering these books online. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE bookstores, but I live somewhere between East Jesus and West Buttcrack and the nearest book store is 30 miles away. Not to mention the fact that it is highly unlikely that those bookstores would have these specific books that I want to buy and read and keep forever in my personal library. It’s a five hour drive to The Strand Bookstore in New York City and a Homeric odyssey and a pilgrimage on a biblical scale to the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, so this is where the internet is my best friend. I am also driven by the 21st century lust for instant gratification. So if I can order a book with three clicks and a cloud of dust, then what’s not to love? Two of the  books I recently ordered just arrived in the mail. I got the same feeling of elation I used to get as a kid when the prize from the coupon in my Count Chocula cereal box arrived in the mail.

These books arrived like the cavalry in a Cowboy and Indian movie – in a nick of time and not a moment too soon. I just finished reading a novel that I LOVED –  “After Life” by Rhian Ellis. (More on that in another post)  If I am a slow learner, (which has been my story and I’m stickin’ to it) I am even more of a slow reader, – but , especially when it comes to novels. However,  I actually think it’s more a case of me not wanting to come to the end of a good novel. When I read a good novel, I inhabit that world, I become the protagonist. It’s not escapism as much as it is inter-dimensional travel. When I come to the end of a novel I have been immersed in reading, there is a sense of loss and “What the Hell do I do now?” It’s like a bad break-up and rebound relationships are almost always a disaster. What you need is a change of pace. This is where my mail order bride – er – I mean – books – come in.

Book Store

While novels demand a more singular kind of attention from my ADDHD addled brain, Poetry and Flash Fiction are different for me. With Poetry and Flash Fiction, each small piece has the potential of being self contained, dense and rich – a kind of verbal amuse-bouche that you might consume in a few short bites, but that has so much unique character you need a palette cleanser before returning. (I learned all that from Top Chef being on television within earshot of my writing space.) Anyway, I am able to read a number of books of Poetry or Flash Fiction simultaneously and it happens in a natural systematic fashion. Because I will read a Poem or a Flash Fiction piece in one sitting (even though I may read each piece more than once) I can then read another author’s work, without losing my connection to either one. I don’t do this well with novels. What usually happens when I try that is that I don’t finish any of them.

I also must confess that I am irrevocably connected to the physical book, with printed pages I can turn and dog-ear and spill coffee on and cover photos of the author or illustrations I can look at and go back to. Somehow all this helps keep me connected with the writing and even more so with the author. It reminds me of the many hours I spent looking at album cover art while listening to vinyl records. I know, like I said, I’m a geezer with cranky opinions. I still have a land line too. In fact the phone just rang as I was writing this and I was able to screen that call. It was someone who wanted to whisper sweet nothings in my ear and sell me stuff I don’t want or need. I’m not getting those kinds of calls on my cell phone. But album cover art added a whole other dimension to the music you were listening to. It’s not the same with the covers of tapes, CDs or downloaded cover art from I Tunes. Again, it’s not like I refuse to use anything but an abacus and an Etch-a-Sketch. I’m listening to Pandora as I write this and I have 28 hours of music on my I Phone, so it’s not like I don’t play well in that electronic world. It’s just that album covers have the same kind of mojo for me that books have. Not to mention the occasional surprise when 30 year old sticks, stems and seeds fall out of the crease of my Derek and the Dominos double album cover.

This is not all to say that I don’t read constantly in the electronic realm. I do. Probably too much. I read almost all of my news online, I post work online, and interact extensively through social media, writing forums, and blogs. I love my I Mac, I Pad, I Pod, I Phone, MacBook Pro and Dell laptop, Kindle and I Books and E Books. However, I am finding that I am more apt to grab a hard copy of something to read in the bathroom, where all of the heavy lifting and profound thinking gets done, than to plunk myself down on the throne for the duration with my Kindle. I also have several books that I never finished reading on my Kindle. It’s not because they’re not good books. They ARE good books. It’s not them, it’s me. Out of sight, out of mind.

Anyway, this is supposed to be an entry for my Book Journal – “Alice B. Toklas,” so I’ll try to come to the point, which for me is difficult, in case you hadn’t noticed. First of all, I got the idea for a Book Journal from Jules Archer, who writes tough but luminous poetry and flash fiction and laugh out loud funny, sometimes irreverent, but always thought provoking posts on her blog: Jules Just Write. More on all of this in another post) One of the books Jules mentioned was an old favorite of mine: On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft by  Stephen King. Although, I’d read this book before, this is the kind of book a writer could read once a year and come away with new learning each time. I think this was the third time I’ve read this, and probably the best. It’s that slow learner thing. Another point that Jules made in a blog post was a resolution to read the work of more women authors. Whether or not this is happening consciously with me, it certainly seems to be happening, nonetheless. Maybe it’s just that I admire these authors for being honest, authentic, and sometimes “in your face”  in ways I only aspire to be.

Book Shelf

So – my Alice B. Toklas Book Journal report for January-February goes like this. This is just a list. More detail to follow.

Excavating the Present/           Lisa Harris & (Poetry/Visual Art Collaboration)              Unearthing Eternity                  Nancy Valle

The Empty City                            Berit Ellingsen (Novel)

On Writing                                    Stephen King (Memoir)

After Life                                       Rhian Ellis (Novel)

Flash Fiction Fridays               Robert Vaughan (Flash Fiction Anthology)                                               (Editor, author, anthologist and contributor)

Disparate Pathos                       Meg Tuite (Flash Fiction Chap Book)

Damn Sure Right                       Meg Pokrass (Flash Fiction)

Blank Cake                                   Misti Rainwater-Lite (Poetry)

Pieces for the Left Hand          Robert J. Lennon (Flash Fiction)

Some closing thoughts on all of this. There’s a lot of engaging, inspiring, and life-changing Art, Music and Literature out there that you won’t find in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today or on Yahoo and Facebook. Most of the really take-no-prisoners, brash, audacious, fresh and original stuff out there is not floating down the mainstream like a big old fat slow ball right over the middle of the plate. While the well mapped out route may get you up and down the mountain safely, sometimes getting lost on that random herd path is what leads you to your true adventure. It’s going to be found in places where you least expect it, when you stretch for it, reach for it, beat the bushes. It’s going to be found with indie musicians, writers, artists – off the beaten path, down back alleys, and in alternative venues. That’s not to say there’s not great stuff in the mainstream, but I think the real game is to be found with those diamonds in the rough, sometimes right in your own backyard. Your Own Backyard – hey – that would be a really cool name for a website!

Cook Books

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